Call for Arms

Who knew that a spray-on deodorant would be able to bring love and peace to international war regions? It can easily be said that from the very first scene, the Axe Peace Super Bowl commercial feels like nothing the brand has previously produced or even promoted. Personally, I found the commercial’s gendered and racialized protrusions concerning the topic of war and peace to be concerning and alarming.

In this particular commercial, there is a toned-down piano track that bolsters the aspects of war and oppressive regimes. Furthermore, there is evidence of allusions to North Korea, the Middle East, World War II, and the Vietnam War. The commercial presents forth a character resembling Kim Jong-un (supreme leader of North Korea) overlooking a crowd in what seems to be Tiananmen Square, an Iranian man having what is assumed to a bomb handcuffed to his wrist, a young soldier gripping his machine gun, and a tank patrolling a destroyed city. Everything seems extremely depressing and isolated, up until a wife or girlfriend romantically approaches each of the men.

The Axe Peace advertisement attempts to make the product attractive to the macho man by referring to war, which is considered which is linked to masculinity (Hutchings 2007). It attempts to build a masculine consumer base by offering an elusive twist to masculinity by showing that men would choose love.

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I find that the advertisement is irrefutably racist in its representation of individuals living within these war regions. This is evident as the commercial portrays a threatening and dangerous image of individuals living within the Middle East and Asia. With the advertisements undisputable endeavor to display the briefcase as a nuclear detonator in the hands of a Middle Easterner, or a North Korean society prepared for war, it demonstrates ignorance and typically, less respect for the individuals living their daily lives within these portrayed regions.

Furthermore, the Axe Peace commercial is highly inappropriate in regards to stereotypes. For example, there is a scene in the advertisement where a beautifully dressed Vietnamese woman can be depicted during the Vietnam War. She watches defenselessly as an armed American soldier descends from a helicopter, strolls towards her, embraces and kisses her. This plays into the stereotype of a submissive, powerless, and beautiful Asian woman. Additionally, it also plays into the American dogma that women are gratifying towards the men who are contemplated to be the hero that risked his life for her or for a country. However, such portrayals neglect to address the number of rape of Vietnamese women by American soldiers that once happened.

Moreover, additional stereotypical references made during the advertisement would be the North Korean man and the Iranian man being depicted as threatening. The North Korean man, illustrated as Kim Jong-un, is seen at the scene signifying the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Iranian man is seen with a suspicious briefcase. These individuals and these scenes may possibly refer to the terrors that preceding leaders of these respective ethnicities have committed.

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Representation of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un.

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Representation of former Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Not only is the advertisement denoted to be racist, but it is also highly gendered in its portrayal. In the scenes presented throughout this advertisement, there is evidence of gendered roles. The heterosexual men epitomized are enlisted into positions of power, allowing them to commence or stop war when they please. They hold authoritative positions of the aggressor, soldiers, hero, tyrants, President, or Dictator. The male gender stereotype presented throughout the Axe commercial seems to present the sense that a man’s role in society is not one of a submissive role. However, on the contrary, the females within this commercial evidently fit the part of a submissive individual in need of protection and rescue.

Gender roles for females within this commercial emphasize aggressive and repressive stereotypes that position a female into a powerless and voiceless role. Indeed this commercial shows hierarchy of the genders as the males are in position of power and authority. However, there seems to be a hierarchy arrangement within the female gender. For example, the only voice that seems to be heard throughout the entire advertisement is from a white female, who grimacingly utters the name of her tank-driving male lover, “Mikhail.” Quite the reverse, the women of another race (i.e. Middle Eastern or Asian) seem to be seen as the silent companion.

Understandably, armed forces are an important source of the rules that define proper behaviour for women and men as heterosexual (Aulette and Witner 384). Furthermore, Aulette and Wittner 2012 also state that women are recognized as instrumental in preventing and stopping armed conflict and in building peace (386). Thus, in terms of the constructed gender role of females within this Axe commercial, it becomes evident that the females are depicted as objects of male affection. However, in my opinion, the Axe brand seems to portray that with a spray of the deodorant, the male can control any woman’s emotions of love and affection. Thus, I would typically state that the advertisements that Axe produces, as a whole, tend to illustrate women to be head-over-heels for the male’s affection.

References

Aulette R. Judy and Judith Wittner. 2012. Gender Worlds. 2nd ed. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Hutchings, Kimberly. 2007. Making Sense of Masculinity and War. Sage Journals, Men and Masculinities 10: 389-404.

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5 thoughts on “Call for Arms

  1. I found it interesting that you mentioned the power hierarchy within the women themselves. As I was watching I also noticed how the white woman was the only women to speak within the commercial. The fact that this commercial is created through a Western ideology, is extremely problematic. One you mentioned, about the Vietnamese women being portrayed as a lover of the American solider, while ignoring the fact that historically many Vietnamese women were raped by American soldiers. This commercial could of engaged in discussion of real costs of these conflicts, but chose to ignore the actual problem and focus on promoting their brand – axe body spray can end global war. The misappropriation of race within this commercial most likely reinforced stereotypes and created more problems than solutions.

  2. The fact that axe has westernised these events just shows how ignorant they are as a corporation. Their attempt to romanticize war is appalling and is extremely disrespectful to the men and women who have fought and died in those times of conflict. Also the blatant disregard of cultural realities versus the stereotypes that they are portraying. I agree with your’e point that it is interesting that axe places all the men into dominant positions and the women into the submissive female roles. All this does is reinforce gender roles in western society. But looking at past axe commercials it is not surprising that they decided to continue their unabashed objectification of women.

  3. That was a really good catch on your behalf–noting that the only female character who gets to speak a word just so happens to be a white female, while all the other women of other races remain speechless beings. Perhaps this signifies that women of other races are still being silenced, even among other women–despite our similar struggles. Also, from what I can gather from this commercial, by simply dawning on Axe’s Peace, all of our world’s crisis and problems will be resolved and love will ensue; simple as that. Clearly, this is not the case in reality as these global conflicts, wars, etc. are much, much more complicated than depicted in the commercial. Lastly, the ad fails to incorporate the many relationships that exist in the world, as all the pairings in the commercial are cis-gender heterosexual couples (even though there were many opportunities to incorporate, for example, a queer couple, etc.).

  4. It’s so true, I was very caught off guard to find that this commercial was for Axe body spray because it is so different from their usual machismo tactics. However, your closing statements made me realize this is typical of Axe because all of their ads imply that women’s affection is the prize if you use their product. This ad definitely plays on assumptions of the past and doesn’t give society credit for the ways in which we’ve moved forward. For example all military personnel shown are men and all romantic relationships shown are heterosexual. We know this not to be true in this day and age yet gender roles and heteronormativity are still drilled into us through the media.
    It’s also pretty disturbing that Axe would feel it is appropriate to use such sensitive global political issues to sell a product. The stereotypes as you mentioned glamourize the war situations and make light of the reality of it all – which is that civilians are actually struggling to live through political unrest around the world.
    I also found it really interesting how you mentioned the possible hierarchy among the women shown and who gets a voice in the advertisement, good catch.
    My last criticism for this ad is the ignorance of culture. Because the setting is obviously imagined and unrealistic, I wonder how people from Vietnam or the Middle East would react to how they are portrayed in Western media.

  5. I found it very interesting how you analyzed the gender roles in this ad! While previously commenting on another blog about the same Axe commercial, I was so caught up with the fact that they were trivializing war that I overlooked the gender roles in this commercial. Now, taking a second look at it I am even more appalled at this advertisements depiction. The hero aspect glamourizes war and disregards the trauma and cruel reality faced by those on the battlefield. In addition, the relationship between the European solider and the Vietnamese woman resembles an all too familiar rape culture associated with war.

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